The Meth Project’s graphic ads are effective at deterring meth use, according to new research by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The new study, “How Disgust Enhances the Effect of Fear Appeals,” compared ads that rely on disgust and fear with ads that use fear alone as the deterring element.
Researchers showed a series of three ads to a group of college students. Each of the ads had an identical message, but the images were different. Those that relied only on an element of fear did not lead to immediate changes in attitudes or behavior. However, the study says ads by the Meth Project (and other similar ads) that incorporated elements of disgust such as rotting teeth, skin sores or infections, did not compel viewers to “undertake distancing behaviors,” such as deciding not to use illegal drugs.
Ads shown to the college students were grouped in to three categories — fear and disgust, represented by an actual Meth Project ad depicting a teen with open sores on his face; fear-only, represented by the image of a coffin; and neutral, represented by two teens sitting side by side. According to the study, the Meth Project ad, with its graphic depiction of addiction, was the only ad that affected viewers’ future intention to use illegal drugs.